Archives For Courtship

If you’re single, you want to be married. At least, that’s what just about everyone in the church seems to believe. Nothing brings out the inner matchmaker of well-intentioned Christians like a sweet twenty something who has somehow evaded the romantic gaze of the opposite sex. “I can’t believe you’re still single!” we say, or “Those boys/girls are crazy not to be asking you out every day!” Meanwhile, singles cringe at the reminders that they’re not in a relationship or else take a few steps back on their journey toward satisfaction in Christ alone, rather than satisfaction in a perfect Christian romance.

From my vantage point, it seems that Christian singles are pressured on all sides to be married. (If you want to know why this mentality is a mistake, click here.) But I also believe that singles tend to put this pressure on themselves. One of the major factors in this pressure toward getting married is the constant quest for “The One.”

Dating Is Awkward

Perhaps we were introduced to our search for “the one” in youth group, when our youth leaders told us to not to settle in our dating relationships, but instead to think of a Christlike man or woman and to accept nothing less. Don’t lower your standards.

And of course, there’s value in thinking this way. You don’t want to marry some lowlife just because he or she is into you. But here’s the problem with holding out for “The One”: He’s not real. She’s not real. You made him or her up in your mind. Which means that until science progresses several steps further, he or she will never exist in the real world.

Maybe you modeled your “one” after a youth leader, a friend’s spouse, or the Lord Jesus himself. But in the first two cases, your perception of these people is far from the reality—no matter how well you think you know him or her, you haven’t seen the depths of their sins or the enormity of their annoying habits. And in the case of Jesus, no one matches up: read the book of Hebrews.

So your quest for “The One” can only lead you to constant disappointment, and you may end up (as an added bonus) messing with another person’s self-perception through your naive expectations.

Instead of focusing on “The One,” focus on each one. As you meet a nice boy or girl that seems to have potential (you know what I’m talking about—wink wink), get to know him or her better. You might think you want to date her right away. You may be absolutely convinced that you’re going to marry him. There’s a good chance that this is “The One.”

But wait! Stop! You don’t want to marry that girl. Nor do you want to be “A Couple” with her.

The Bachelorette - Rose CeremonyWhen you see a guy that you’re into, you don’t really want to marry him. What you’re really thinking is that you’d like to get to know him better so that you can find out if you’d like to be in a deeper relationship with him. And if you do decide you want to be in a deeper relationship with him, then you can eventually find out if you’d like to be married to him.

Because he could be awful. Really. I promise you that nobody wants to “Be Married”—as though that were a general category that someone can obtain without entering into it with a real life, flesh and blood, very specific human being. There are a near-infinite number of people on this planet with whom marriage would be horrible. HORRIBLE! No, you don’t want to “Be Married.” But you may want to marry some specific person you meet someday. And here’s the problem: you’ll never know until you get to that point. You don’t know you really want to marry her until you know her well enough to get a sense of where she’s heading in life, what she’s passionate about, how she handles conflicts, how quickly she repents of her sin, how funny or goofy or intelligent or serious she is.

And everything I just said about “Being Married” also applies—but in a less tragic and less permanent sense—to “Being in a Dating Relationship.” You may think you want to be “Dating Someone,” but there are so many people with whom a dating relationship would be miserable.

And there’s a failsafe built in: the other person has to want it to. So even if you’re mistaken in thinking that a relationship has potential, the other person has to agree. This safety feature of relationships has prevented more than a few major mistakes in the history of boys meeting girls.

The point is: just relax. You’re going to be fine. God knows what you need; and he knows better than you do. You can abandon your quest for “The One,” for that “Dating Relationship,” for “Your Soulmate.” Stop focusing on “The One” and start focusing on each one. As God brings people into your life, get to know them. Enjoy them. Don’t make them audition for the part of “The One.” Get to know those people better, and if at some point you prayerfully decide to test the waters of a dating relationship with one of those specific flesh and blood people, then go for it, and see what happens.

Wedding Cake TopperThis post is inspired by two overlapping events. The first is the approach of Valentine’s Day, when lovers are expected to show their affection through clichés (hopefully breathing new life into old traditions) and social media reflects the desire of many single people to be in relationships. The second is the progression of the Spring semester, during which college students instinctually know that the time to begin relationships is upon them.

A few years ago I wrote a six part blog series on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” That’s not a fair title, of course, but I was trying to capture some of the awkward tension that comes from the Christian community’s disagreement over what dating looks like, what it should even be called, etc. I also addressed factors like the suffocating pressure we put upon young Christians to be married—soon.

In my view, many Christians have forgotten 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul recommends singleness over marriage. Instead, single Christians don’t make it very far into their twenties without suspicious looks and comments from older (married) Christians. I also think some circles of Christianity have over-exalted forms of “dating” (whatever you want to call it) that make dating into a trial run for marriage.

I am convinced (perhaps naively) that if we do our dating right, our social lives won’t disintegrate into two-person love bubbles, our breakups won’t feel like divorces, and the single Christians in our midst won’t be treated like lepers. These are all major problems within the church. I don’t claim to have all of the answers for getting us to this point, but I’ve heard from many people over the last few years who have found the simple guidelines in that blog series helpful. So I’m summarizing and linking to those blog posts below, in the hopes that you might find them helpful as well. And for those over-achievers who want a book length treatment on the road to marriage and the accompanying dangers, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

 

Dating Series Part 1Part 1 – You Don’t Need to Get Married

Many people in the church assume that every Christian ought to be married. There’s a good chance that you believe that you ought to be married at some point (and soon!). But this mentality actually contradicts Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7. Some assume that they need be married based on poor interpretations of 1 Corinthians 7:9 and Genesis 2:18… READ MORE >>>

 

Part 2 – What Do We Even Call It?Dating Series Part 2

Though every marriage (aside from arranged marriages) begins with a “getting to know you and find out if we should be married” stage, Christians disagree (sometimes passionately) about what this stage should be called. Some call it dating. Some insist on calling it courting. Others are “just hanging out.” Some will identify as boyfriend and girlfriend, others avoid these labels. All of this disagreement leads to more unnecessary confusion and awkwardness… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 3Part 3 – The Love Cocoon

We all know those couples who are so grossly into each other that they make everyone around them feel awkward. If your dating relationship makes all of your other relationships crumble (relationships with friends, parents, God…), then your relationship has become an idol and is doomed to failure. The key is to be the kind of couple that loves each other, but also loves and acknowledges the other people God has placed in your life… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 4Part 4 – Test-Driving Marriage

In Christian circles, we tend to encourage dating couples to become intimate in every way except for one: physical intimacy is off limits. But this creates huge problems. When a couple becomes more socially intimate, more emotionally intimate, and more spiritually intimate, we shouldn’t be surprised when the physical intimacy quickly follows. This is how we’re wired. But there are actually other major problems with treating dating like a mini trial run for marriage… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 5Part 5 – Playing the Field

Many people think that if you’re not “out there” actively “playing the field,” you won’t get married. There is nothing wrong with going on dates, even seeking them out, but your relationships with the opposite sex cannot all be focused on evaluating their marriageability rather than getting to know people as peopleREAD MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 6Part 6 – Successful Dating Relationships Can End in Breakups

Most people would consider a breakup to be a failure. But when you’re dating someone, you’re really just getting to know that person better until you find out whether it would be more glorifying to God for you to get married or not to get married. Either is a helpful discovery, and in either case your relationship should be able to continue in a God-glorifying way: as husband and wife or as brother and sister in Christ… READ MORE >>>

19 Weddings & Counting

Mark Beuving —  October 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

I am going to (unwisely) analyze something that will probably make a lot of people upset. Last night, my wife and I watched Jill Duggar’s wedding on TLC. It was great. The Duggars are great. Honestly, how can you not love this gigantic family that clearly loves the Lord deeply, loves each other deeply, and constitutes a rare and refreshingly wholesome spot in television programming?

I am pro-Duggar. Hear me say that. But as I watched Jill and Derick’s wedding last night, I was struck by the focus of it all. The wedding (episode) was not about marriage, not about Jesus and his bride, not about love. It was (at least as I experienced it) about (1) kissing and (2) having babies. Please feel free to disagree with me entirely, but hear me out.

The Duggars are famous for their no-nonsense approach to courtship. Jim Bob (aka, Daddy and Pops) actually introduced Jill to Derick. Derick was serving as a missionary in Nepal when the relationship began, and since that moment every conversation, every Skype session, and every face-to-face interaction has been chaperoned. Meaning that as the “kids” got to know each other, Jim Bob was there, often sitting between the two.

Hand-holding was strictly forbidden until engagement, at which point it was carefully chaperoned. There was even a moment of controversy during the engagement in which the couple’s over-exuberance turned an approved (and chaperoned) side hug into a full-blown real hug. Not to worry, the anxiety died down when it became clear that this was the unintentional result of Jill zigging while Derick zagged. (It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious issue.)

Now some clarifications. I’m intentionally playing up the sternness of it all. The Duggars are a fun group, and they all seem to be thriving in ways that most families don’t. Also, I have no intention of sending my daughters (now 3 and 5 years old) out into the world to make out with whomever. That’s not happening. I believe in wisdom, patience, principles, and the limitation of physical intimacy prior to marriage.

Chaperoned Date

But in my opinion (which you don’t need to share), this ever-watchful-chaperoning approach to dating (courtship) has some potentially negative side effects. One side effect is what it communicates. Do the Duggar parents trust their kids? I’m sure they do. And why wouldn’t they? Those kids are angels! If you set a Duggar loose for three days in Willy Wonka’s factory with a clear command to eat no candy, you can be sure that no candy will be eaten.

And that’s the irony. The Duggars seem to have done an incredible job of raising godly, trustworthy kids. So why treat them like criminals? Sigmund Freud thought that all human interaction boils down to the urge for sex. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And the Duggar’s don’t believe that. So you don’t need to send your kids into vulnerable situations, but you might try letting them have a conversation or two that’s not wire-tapped. Maybe even a devotional time on the morning of their wedding that’s not chaperoned (that was a real scenario).

As I said, my girls are young, so I do not know what I’m talking about here. But it seems to me that this vigilant chaperoning communicates (probably unintentionally) that these wonderful young people are untrustworthy.

The second side effect I see is that it turned the marriage (episode) into a giggle-fest about kissing and having babies. Now, I know that the Duggars didn’t edit the footage for this episode. I’d be willing to bet that everyone in the family said some wonderful things about the true meaning of marriage that the producers simply didn’t find compelling. However, the courtship emphasis on lack of physical contact and private conversation made the marriage about the kiss. And, from the moment the “kids” got engaged, the big question was how quickly the couple would begin having kids.

Duggar Wedding

Kissing on your wedding day and having children in your marriage are both great. I’m for those things. But marriage is more than kissing alone. It’s more than reproducing. I’m sure the Duggars communicated these truths to their children. But I do think it’s unfortunate that the televised version of their wedding came down to unsupervised kissing and the any-minute-now expectation of having kids.

And now let me backtrack. I realize that it’s terrible to critique the Duggars, especially when there are so many obviously flawed programs and people on television. The Duggars are indeed a bright spot. But much of what we love them for is their quirks, their well-meaning (and probably well thought out) idiosyncrasies, the things that make them, well, Duggars.

Many of those quirks are wonderful. But perhaps we would all do well to consider that the opposite of sexual immorality is not constant policing. The cure for physical temptation is not Jim Bob’s inquisitive look as you accidentally front-hug. Sexual immorality comes from the heart (Mark 7:21–23), not unsupervised finger-contact. The Duggars know that. We should too.

 

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

Life can be hard for single Christians. Christian culture puts a lot of pressure on singles to get married. As I have said, marriage is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. If you’re a single Christian of marriageable age, however, chances are you often find yourself on the receiving end of well-intentioned pity. Your very presence brings out the matchmaker in everyone—nothing would make them happier than to get you married.

I think this type of pressure leads to another huge myth about dating and the road to marriage. Many single Christians get the idea that if they’re ever going to get married, they need to be out playing the field. But it’s a myth that if you’re not actively dating, you’ll never get married.

First of all, never forget that marriage is not your goal in life—God’s glory is. It’s not about finding a person to get you where you want to be (i.e., married). It’s about glorifying God, and if that means marrying a specific person that God has placed in your life, then go for it.

You need to trust God enough that if He wants you to be married, He will bring the right person at the right time. Meeting new people is great for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be hosting your own privatized version of The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I’m not saying that you should live as a hermit, but you’re not casting for the role of future bride or groom.

There’s nothing wrong with going on dates. Nor is it a problem to go on blind dates or to use a matchmaking website. Those are all fine ways of meeting other people. The problem comes when we date aggressively out of an urgency to get married. It’s a problem when we stop getting to know people as people and begin evaluating each person for their marriageability.

How about this instead? Get to know the people that God brings into your life (this could include blind dates or website matches). As you make friends with members of the opposite sex, you may find that you really enjoy spending time with one person in particular. So spend more time with that person. Remember, you aren’t auditioning this person for the role of spouse, you’re simply enjoying spending time with this person and getting to know him or her better. If this keeps up, you might find it helpful to call it dating. (You may have been calling it “dating” from the beginning since you’ve been setting “dates” to hang out.) Or maybe you’ll call it courting. You might start calling that person your boyfriend or girlfriend. His or her hand may even find its way into yours from time to time. And from there…

My point is this: don’t start with a mental or emotional attachment to the concept of being married and then date until you find “the one.” Trust me, you don’t want to “be married”—as though that were a general concept that one can evaluate without thinking about being married to a specific spouse. With almost every person on the planet, marriage would be intolerable. You don’t want that. But there may be one person on the planet with whom marriage would be a joy.

So get to know the people that God brings into your life, and if you discover that God is drawing the two of you together and leading you into the marriage arena, then go from there.

I know I’m being infuriatingly vague with all of this, but remember that I don’t believe there is “one right way” to go from being single to being married. Whenever we are talking about human relationships, we should be speaking more in terms of art and mystery than formulas and schematics.

In my final post on the subject, I will argue that not every dating relationship should end in marriage.

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

A couple from TLC’s show “The Virgin Diaries” sharing butterfly kisses.

I doubt I’ll surprise anyone by saying that Christians are bad at dating. We all feel it in our bones and see it at every church function. Christians tend to be awkward when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Much of this is simply a human problem and not a specifically Christian problem. But our Christian culture places weird pressures and expectations on us, so we end up with some unique manifestations of awkwardness in dating.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to explore some of this awkwardness. No, I don’t have any “moves” to pass on. And no, I don’t think that I’m less awkward than anyone else. But I would like to debunk a few myths about dating and the road to marriage that have become as engrained in Christian culture as evangelistic bumper stickers.

Here is a myth that most of the church has embraced, but that remains a myth nonetheless: “I need to get married.” Do you? Why?

I’m not surprised that Christians feel this way. Marriage, of course, is a great and beautiful thing, and I have been incredibly blessed in my marriage. I’m a huge fan of marriage. But should every Christian be married? I don’t see how we can possibly say or even suggest that this should be the case. Is it possible to be a godly Christian and not married? Jesus obviously thought so. So did Paul. In fact, read 1 Corinthians 7 if you’re tempted to believe that marriage is inherently better than singleness. Paul seems to be making the opposite case: remain single unless God specifically calls you to be married.

I have heard many young people (guys more than girls) appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. “I have these lust issues, so I need to get married. Paul says so.” But believe it or not, marriage doesn’t magically cure lust. If lust is in your heart, then changing your external situation (having a spouse to have sex with) is not going to fix you. That lust is in your heart and will find new and more inventive ways to manifest itself. You may spend your honeymoon lust-free (probably you’ll just be venting your lust with your new spouse), but only gaining self-control through the power of the Spirit will change the desires in a person’s heart.

No, Paul seems to be talking about a person who is called to be married and who tries to deny that calling by trying to live single for the rest of their lives. In other words, Paul isn’t saying that you should get married as soon as you feel lust. Instead, if you are the kind of person that God has called to marriage (and this implies that there is another kind of person as well), then don’t run from God on this issue.

At every wedding you attend, you will hear the pastor read Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” For many, this is an affirmation that singleness is bad, so everyone ought to end up married. Adam was an unmarried man in the garden, God looked at him and decided that being unmarried was bad, so He solved the problem by creating a wife and getting Adam married. But I don’t believe that this is the point of Genesis 2:18. When God looked at the one human being He had created, He decided that human beings shouldn’t live in isolation. So He created another human being so that Adam could live in community. Eve was a wife, to be sure, but she was also another human being. If Genesis 2:18 means that singleness is bad, then Paul was mistaken in 1 Corinthians 7.

Let me just re-affirm that I like marriage. I think it is a good thing. But we all know that good things can easily become idols. Rather than assuming that you have to be married, why not leave that up to God? Here is the attitude I would recommend: “My goal is to glorify God as long as I’m single, and if God decides at some point to give me a spouse, then I’ll glorify Him in marriage.”

I think that much of the awkwardness surrounding dating in Christian culture stems from fact that every single Christian feels pressured to shop for a godly spouse. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s play it cool, trusting God’s unfolding plan more than our own assumptions. Let’s not misuse the people God placed in our lives by constantly assessing their marriageability. Let’s love God and love people and allow Him to move us into the marriage arena in His time and on His terms if that’s what He wants to do with us.

Tomorrow I will try to sort through the awkward language we use for dating (e.g., courting, dating, boyfriend/girlfriend).

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